How Radio Stations Can Protect On-Air Talent from Online Harassment
July 26, 2016
While most of the nation's attention was focused on the drama of the GOP Convention last week, another online debate was also underway. Milo Yiannopolous is a British pundit for the conservative website Breitbart who developed a following in the wake of Gamergate controversy over sexism in the video game world.
He recently wrote a negative review of the new Ghostbusters film, which led to a heated exchange on Twitter with one of the film's stars, African-American actress Leslie Jones. Yiannopolous' fans jumped into the fray, harassing Jones with sexist and racist tweets. Jones, who had never heard of Yiannopolous before the incident, was blindsided by the sudden onslaught of hate.
Twitter has been criticized for having a lax policy when it comes to online harassment, but this time they took the issue seriously and permanently banned Yiannopolous. Instagram has done the same. Not surprisingly, a #FreeMilo hashtag soon popped up on social media. (Vox has a more detailed explanation of the entire controversy here.)
In a year when our political rhetoric has become overheated and the relationship between fellow Americans has grown more tense along the lines of race, religion, and sexual orientation, there is an increasing chance that public figures may find themselves drawn into an online debate they did not want or expect. Your on-air personalities may find themselves dealing with online harassment even if they don't court controversy on the air.
Social media can be a powerful promotional tool for radio stations, but it also has a dark side. If your station is going to ask your on-air personalities to be active on social media, it should also be prepared to step in and protect them if things go off the rails. But how?
Here are some steps you can take before anything happens:
1. Put a social media policy in place.
Of course, the best way to deal with situations like these are to prevent them from happening in the first place. That's not always possible, but you can reduce the chances by adopting an explicitly clear social media policy. It should not only tell people what not to do online, but also provide some positive guidance by suggesting things that they should do. By giving clear directions, you decrease the likelihood of problems.
2. Encourage on-air talent to report issues to management.
Even with a smart social media policy in place, issues may arise. It's important to create a working environment where on-air talent facing online harassment feel safe coming to management. Proactively address the issue by explaining to your staff when and how to ask for help, and what steps the company will take to protect them.
Among other things, make sure that everybody understands what constitutes online harassment. Some staff members may find themselves in uncomfortable situations, but may not realize that they are victims of harassment. Likewise, managers may not know when they need to take these situations seriously. In short, get everybody on the same page so you can work together to address harassment.
3. Decide who deals with these issues and train that person.
When on-air personalities face a problem, they may not all report it to the same person. Depending on their relationships, they may bring the issue to their Program Director, their General Manager, or their Human Resources Director. Make sure that all of these people know how to appropriately respond. If they should refer the situation to another manager, make sure they know that.
If you do have a single point person who deals with these issues for your station, such as a Human Resources Director, train them to do so. In many ways, we are dealing with uncharted territory here, and your staff may not have experience with these types of problems. You may need to invest in a class or workshop to train talent and management how to deal with these situations. Do it before anything happens, not after.
4. Have a pre-emptive conversation with your legal team.
I'm not a lawyer and you shouldn't take legal advice from me. But you should definitely consult with legal counsel so you know what issues could arise with online harassment. Every social network has a different policy when it comes to harassment, and they don't always enforce those policies with equal fervor, so you may need to pursue legal channels to protect your employees. Again, have a conversation before anything happens, not just after.
Over the years, too many of our on-air personalities have faced harassment problems in the physical world, especially in the form of stalking. Unfortunately, the digital world makes it even easier for predators to go after our people. Take steps to take care of and protect your staff.